Hamilton v Fife Health Board: 1993

A child was born but with injuries incurred while in utero alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the doctors attending the mother. The parents sued the health board for loss of the child’s society. The Board argued the action to be irrelevant as the child had not been a person for the purposes of the 1976 Act at the time when the injuries were sustained. The Lord Ordinary held that personal injuries could only be sustained by a person and that the child had not been a person at the relevant time. The pursuers reclaimed.
Held: Reversing the judgment of the Lord Ordinary, the case depended on the construction of section 1(1) of the Damages (Scotland) Act 1976, that there could be no liability until both damnum and iniuria concurred, but once the child was born and became a person the necessary concurrence was established and the child acquired the right to sue the person whose breach of duty resulted in its loss; and it followed that the defenders were liable to pay damages to the pursuers in accordance with section 1(1) of the 1976 Act.
Lord McCluskey said: ‘As the act or omission must be one giving rise to liability to pay damages, there can be no liability until both damnum and iniuria concur. There can be no liability to pay damages until there is a person in respect of whose loss the claim to damages arises.’
Lord Caplan said: ‘However the duty is not breached nor does a right of action arise at the point when the careless act is committed (assuming there were such an act). The duty which rests on a person charged with taking care is not the academic responsibility of not being negligent but rather the duty not to cause harm by negligence. The delict is only committed when the initial negligent act actually causes harm. That is to say the concurrence of iniuria and damnum is required. ‘


1993 SC 369


Damages (Scotland) Act 1976 1(1)




CitedWatson v Fram Reinforced Concrete Co (Scotland) Ltd HL 1960
A workman had been injured through the breaking of a defective part in the machine with which he was working. He brought an action of damages against his employers, and later convened as second defenders the manufacturers of the machine, who had . .
CitedB v Islington Health Authority; De Martell v Merton and Sutton Health Authority CA 6-May-1992
A doctor’s duty of care to an unborn child is an established duty in common law despite some cases apparently to the contrary. Phillips J: ‘The duty in the law of negligence is not a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid risk of causing injury. . .

Cited by:

CitedMcTear v Imperial Tobacco Ltd OHCS 31-May-2005
The pursuer sought damages after her husband’s death from lung cancer. She said that the defenders were negligent in having continued to sell him cigarettes knowing that they would cause this.
Held: The action failed. The plaintiff had not . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 17 May 2022; Ref: scu.226699